11/24/2010 02:44 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Turn Your Corporate Blog into a Super-Charged Marketing Survey

As long as marketing has existed, marketers have sought ways to elicit direct feedback from competitors. From focus groups to social media marketing, the effort to get inside your customer's head has been nothing short of heroic, and with mixed results. Meanwhile, the best answer to the question, "What are my customers thinking?" may be right under your nose -- well, right under your blog. Consult your analytics.

Most of the methods used to get a customer's thoughts are limited by customer awareness. He may be self-conscious during a survey or fueled by bravado on Twitter, requiring that you adjust by some unknown, guesstimated amount in order to get to the truth. Of course, you can structure your survey questions to deal with specific business issues and mitigate the risk of user reticence or grandstanding, but you're still left with what a respondent will tell you, which isn't always the same as what he thinks.

Crossing the divide between thought and speech is rarely easy. Short of spying on your customers (which can be both time-consuming and highly inappropriate), you don't have many options, unless you have a corporate blog in place. You can use the web analytics it generates to recreate the marketing survey or customer interview dynamic, without inviting the risk of skewed answers. Every click answers a question -- if you write your content properly.

Think about how you write questions for a marketing survey: each generally deals with a specific issue. After all, you want answers you can use to target and pursue potential customers. You ask about a particular issue the respondent is likely to have -- only one issue. If you want to drill into more than one, you use multiple questions. It's pretty straightforward. Of course, you can use the responses to profile your targets and start the selling process.

You can affect a similar result using your corporate blog, and bypass the risk of changed answers based on how a respondent thinks he'll be perceived.

On your blog, think of every click as the answer to a question. If a user clicks to read a post about a particular product or service, that click is an expression of interest. A series of clicks to related stories provides even more insight into what is on your prospective customer's mind, making it possible to assemble a profile that could be quite useful to your sales team.

The value of these clicks as sales intelligence, however, is based on the nature of the content you provide. To make the most of every visitor to your corporate blog, write specific content that will tell you things that a simple click cannot. A post covering a broad subject at a high level will only tell you that a visitor is broadly interested while details deliver better insights.

For example, take a look at "Four Objectives for Your Corporate Blog". It can certainly be characterized as a "social media marketing" post on our blog, but it deals specifically with corporate blogging operations. And, subsequent clicks refine that perspective, adding more detail about the specific aspects of social media marketing that interest him. So, when it's time for a conversation to occur, the discussion will be more productive for everyone involved.

To gain as much sales intelligence as possible out of each post on your corporate blog:
  • Be specific: zero in on a particular product, service or business issue
  • Limit yourself: complex topics may be fun to write about, but they dilute the value of each click as sales intelligence
  • Link to other posts: one post is like on survey question, while multiple clicks are equivalent to an entire survey - make the latter easier to attain
  • Write often: feel constrained by the "one post/one topic" concept? Write more than one post, either as standalone pieces or linked together as a series

Actions speak louder than words - and they are much harder to fake. Among other things, your corporate blog can be a super-charged alternative to traditional marketing surveys, revealing customer insights that would have been almost inaccessible otherwise. Plan your editorial calendar wisely, and watch your analytics closely: your customers are trying to talk to you!

Tom Johansmeyer is the Senior Content Director at enter:marketing. His opinions are his own.